Tuesday, May 25, 2021

In Case You Missed It - May 26th

Over the last seven days, the Greater New York Red Cross provided emergency assistance to 189 adults and 90 children following 61 local disasters. Here are some highlights from last week and a preview of upcoming activities. (See below)

Last Week in Review:

Upcoming Events and Activities
  • June 1: Join us for our virtual event - The Pillowcase Project - which is a free virtual emergency preparedness education class that teaches children (ages 7-12) about emergency preparedness and is free and open to all.
  • June 7, 14: PARENTS IN GREENWICH AND WESTCHESTER: Registration is open for Safety Town! Join us virtually for a comprehensive one-week safety education program offered every summer by the American Red Cross Metro NY North Chapter. Under guidance of classroom teachers and with the help of representatives from the police, fire, EMS departments and other community helpers, children learn safety tips in a virtual classroom setting and are fitted with their own bike safety helmet that they keep. Sessions available the week of June 7th and June 14th. All sessions will be on Zoom. Registration is OPEN. Scholarships available. Visit Safetytown.givesmart.com to register today!
  • June 8: Sign up for our virtual event--Prepare, Respond, Recover: What to do When Disaster Strikes and Hands Only CPR--a free training, co-hosted by Senator Alexis Weik, on what you and your community can do when an emergency occurs.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

In Case You Missed It - May 18

Celebrating volunteer Margaret Sukhram for International Nurses Day.

Over the last seven days, the Greater New York Red Cross provided emergency assistance to 77 adults and 26 children following 43 local disasters. Here are some highlights from last week and a preview of upcoming activities. (See below)

Last Week in Review
Upcoming Events and Activities

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

In Case You Missed It - May 11

Red Cross Volunteers and FDNY installing free smoke alarms in Queens.

Over the last seven days, the Greater New York Red Cross provided emergency assistance to 121 adults and 25 children following 51 local disasters. Here are some highlights from last week and a preview of upcoming activities. (See below)

Last Week in Review
Upcoming Events and Activities

Lawyer-Turned-Social Worker Finds New Career as Red Cross Volunteer

by Barbara Gaynes, American Red Cross in Greater NY

The fire that tore through an apartment building in Jackson Heights, Queens, last month, leaving almost 500 people homeless, was devastating. When Doug McNally, a Disaster Mental Health Specialist for the Red Cross, arrived on the scene, he met many residents struggling to cope with the aftereffects of the tragedy.

“I was assigned to go with the people back to the apartments for the first time, which was very emotional for them,” he said.

Among the victims was a 23-year-old woman who had spent her entire life in the building and whose family had lost almost everything they owned to smoke and water damage.

“She walked down the hall with me, telling me the names of her neighbors, with tears in her eyes,” he said. “Her little hallway neighborhood was destroyed.”

As a trained social worker and attorney, McNally knew that one of the best things he could offer was an empathetic ear.

"I help people in dealing with crisis,” he said. "Just to be there and to listen to them — that's the first step toward their recovery."

Since joining the Red Cross 2 ½ years ago — after going back to school at age 65 to get a Master’s in Social Work — McNally has provided emotional support to victims of both natural and man-made disasters. As coordinator of Long Island’s Rapid-Response Mental Health Team, he’s responded to fatal fires and a massive sewage spill. He’s also deployed to the scenes of heart-wrenching tragedies in other parts of the country: California wildfires, Arkansas floods and a Louisiana hurricane.

He vividly recalls a survivor of the 2018 wildfires who told of making an incredibly difficult decision in the midst of the disaster.

“It was really tragic what some of those people went through — the stories they were telling me of trying to get out of the fire. One person in particular said, ‘I saw my neighbor — he had to pull over. And I knew if I stopped I probably wouldn’t get out. So I kept going.’ And the neighbor did not get out."

Such situations show the value of having mental-health specialists on-site to listen to survivors' accounts and offer assistance, said Joe Spaccarelli, Interim CEO, American Red Cross on Long Island.

“Considering all the trauma brought on by the disasters we respond to as an organization, it’s so important to have mental health volunteers like Doug, trained to help individuals cope with these complex emotions,” Spaccarelli said. “Doug exemplifies compassion and professionalism.”

McNally, a longtime Northport, N.Y., resident and partner in a Melville law firm, found his true calling after enrolling at Stony Brook University in 2016 to get a Master’s at an age when many people are thinking of retirement. His goal was to emphasize the “counselor” part of being a counselor at law.

“To me it was a natural segue because I had focused my practice in the area of family law, estates, guardianships,” he explained. “Solving people’s legal problems was somewhat easy, but I never felt like I got to the root of their problems. I wanted to better understand what was going on and be a better counselor.”

While on campus, he participated in a simulated disaster drill that inspired him to become a Red Cross volunteer. McNally also found a way to give back to Stony Brook, using his legal background to help create — and co-teach — a popular course on forensic social work.

Now, after 40-plus years practicing law, the 69-year-old grandfather of 5 is set to retire in August. Yet he has no plans to end his Red Cross work.

“I gain so much more than I give,” McNally said of volunteering. “I just feel blessed that I’ve had an opportunity to help other people.”

Though the past year has been difficult due to COVID-19 restrictions, McNally sees a light at the end of the tunnel.

“I look to return to where we can get closer to people and not have to maintain that distance and be constantly vigilant about exposure.”

Friday, May 7, 2021

"Three Questions” with Red Cross Volunteer Margaret Sukhram

By Christine A. Gipson, American Red Cross in Greater NY

“Three Questions” is an American Red Cross in Greater New York blog series featuring staff, volunteers, and partners who help carry out our humanitarian mission. Through these short interviews, we hope to shine a light on our different programs and get to know those who make this work possible.

Born in British Guyana and educated in England, Margaret Sukhram is a Nurse Practitioner currently living in Long Island. She's been with the Red Cross since 2012. In addition to her work in Health Services, she also volunteers with Services to the Armed Forces, the home fire safety program, Youth Services as well as the Disaster Action Team. And she also gives of her time to other organizations, including A-1 Universal and the New York State Department of Health AIDS Institute.
Where have you been deployed to outside of Long Island?

I have done 14 or 15 deployments in person and virtual, including Hurricane Harvey in Texas, wildfires in California and Hurricane Michael in Florida. Big local responses as well, like Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Irene. 

Which response out of all those was the most memorable?

Oh gosh, memorable? Memorable could be all of them in different ways. Each disaster is so different, but one memory stands out. There was a lady, at one of the disasters, Hurricane Michael in Florida. She wouldn't sleep at the shelter where I was working. She was sleeping in her car. She was very angry, but she would come in and talk to the nurses but not the Mental Health volunteers. We thought she needed Mental Health support. And I remember her saying, "It's like Kubler-Ross [five stages of grief ]. I'm not ready to move on. I'm still angry." So we talked and we talked and we knew where she was at, in the spectrum of Kubler-Ross. And finally after talking with her, we were able to get her to sleep in the shelter and not in the car. And she eventually was able to talk with a Mental Health counselor. And later, before she left, she said AARP offered to interview her for a story about losing her home and everything. Needless to say, a few months later she was in the AARP magazine. So that was a great thing to see us help her to build some kind of resiliency and move on. She was able to accept her situation and share her story with others. So that was a wonderful experience for me, to know that someone who was hurt in a disaster was able to build some resiliency and share her story so others would know that they are not the only ones. There are lots of different stories. Each disaster is different.

What has volunteering brought to your life?

Such richness. I feel richer everyday for volunteering. I feel gratification. I feel that I'm making a difference in people's lives. And I feel that when you are kind to people, kindness pays off. I love to see people smile. You can see relief in them when they know that people are listening to their stories. It has just brought richness to me as a person, as a human being. 

Volunteers for the Red Cross, I feel, are very special people, and I've developed great friendships with people both in different states that we keep in touch with and locally. I love to work with the Red Cross'ers because I feel that they are special people to want to donate their time and energy to this cause of helping others.

Monday, May 3, 2021

In Case You Missed It

Fairview Fire Department installed over 300 free fire alarms in 4 days.

Over the last seven days, the Greater New York Red Cross provided emergency assistance to 86 adults and 30 children following 42 local disasters. Here are some highlights from last week and a preview of upcoming activities. (See below)

Last Week in Review
  • This past week, the American Red Cross in Greater NY set a goal to fundraise $2021 to support our Sound the Alarm campaign to #EndHomeFires, our nation’s most frequent disaster.
  • Last week in partnership with the American Red Cross, the Fairview Fire Department installed over 300 free smoke alarms in just four days as a part of our Sound the Alarm effort to #EndHomeFires.
  • On Thursday, our volunteers assisted a family of 5, providing financial assistance, emergency housing and more, following a home fire in Brooklyn.
  • On Sunday, we shared that we are working alongside the Greenwich Fire Department this month to help #EndHomeFires by installing free smoke alarms in Greenwich, CT.
  • Over the weekend, we shared the NFL Auction page where you can bid on Super Bowl tickets, signed memorabilia and more to support the Red Cross mission, as part of our #HeroesForHumanity virtual event.
  • On Wednesday, we shared Red Cross President & CEO Gail McGovern’s story about the life-changing experience getting her COVID-19 vaccination and how the moment left her feeling reassured and safe.

Upcoming Events and Activities

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Giving Back Wherever He Can: Red Cross Volunteer Ray Enstine

By Alessandro Malave, American Red Cross in Greater NY

Ray Enstine lives a life dedicated to helping others. Originally from Long Island, Enstine is a military veteran who worked for 30 years as a small business owner. In 15 years of service with the Red Cross in his retirement, Enstine has served in many different roles, almost all in Disaster Relief.

Speaking about his work helping communities after fires, floods and other emergencies, Enstine reflects: “A lot of people don’t realize how meaningful it is to people when you feel in the lowest part of your life, and a stranger comes in in the middle of the night and helps you. You feel like you’re not alone, and that’s a very powerful thing.”

Enstine, who has long given back through community service including with his local Rotary Club, initially joined the Red Cross inspired by the work of volunteers after Hurricane Katrina. He connected with the organization soon after, supporting disaster response efforts locally on Long Island and, at times, deployed to large-scale relief efforts, like those that spurred him on to volunteer with the Red Cross in the first place.

One early and memorable experience for Enstine on deployment occurred while working at a service center in Iowa for flood relief in 2007. He encountered a gentleman who did not want to leave his mold-ridden home despite the safety issues he was facing. He connected and carefully engaged in conversation with the man, ultimately assisting him and his family to find housing. The man introduced Ray to his wife and expressed their gratitude after reconnecting with him by chance a few weeks later.

Enstine has also been quite active after local disasters here on Long Island. One role Ray has taken on with the Red Cross locally is representing the organization in Emergency Operations Centers both before and during disasters. In this position he serves as a liaison between the Red Cross and local emergency management officials, communicating requests and information to Red Cross teams to ensure needs on the ground are being met.

He has also served as a caseworker. While working in this role during Hurricane Irene in 2011, he received an inquiry from an individual in Iowa who could not reach two of his older relatives in Long Island who had evacuated due to the storm. Ray was tasked with helping reconnect them, and he did. Ernstine ultimately found the family members and informed them about their worried relative in Iowa. He even helped connect them by phone.

Enstine now splits his time between New York and South Carolina and volunteers with the Red Cross in both places.

“As you get older, you get removed from things,” Ray says about retired life. “But in the Red Cross, you get to see all these different people and learn about all different cultures and things you don’t know. It’s just been a chance to give back and connect to people, and it’s been quite a ride.”

Saturday, May 1, 2021

"Three Questions" with Sally Nielsen

"Three Questions” is an American Red Cross in Greater New York blog series featuring staff, volunteers, and partners who help carry out our humanitarian mission. Through these short interviews, we hope to shine a light on our different programs and get to know those who make this work possible.

by Xavia Malcolm, American Red Cross in Greater NY

Sally Nielsen has dedicated her life to helping others. She has cared for many people over the span of her career as a nurse. Today, although she is retired, Sally continues to apply the noble principles of nursing to her role as a health services volunteer with the American Red Cross. Since joining our team in January of 2018, she has provided assistance to countless individuals, and has exemplified compassion.

Why did you pursue a career in nursing?

I fell in love with the Florence Nightingale [founder of modern nursing] story, and nursing has always been a part of my life. My mother was a nurse, I became a nurse, so did my daughter. It is an amazing career that allows me to do what I love the most which is to help others.

How has becoming Red Cross volunteer impacted your life?

I have always admired the work of the Red Cross. What we do is truly unique. Volunteering has given me the opportunity to see resilience and grace at its best, in times of adversity. In 2018, I deployed to Florida following the devastation of Hurricane Michael. The level of destruction was one that you could not imagine. You would have to see it to believe it. Homes were leveled and acres of forest were destroyed. Everything was demolished. Yet people were so grateful that we were there with them. I find it important to let people know that we are truly there to help in any way that we can. One of the first things I say to clients when we arrive is, “You are not alone. The Red Cross is here for you.” With these words people often break down and cry. What we do makes a difference in their lives. I have had clients contact me months after a response saying: "thank you for helping my family find a safe place to stay," "thank you for helping me secure a generator to run my medical equipment," and so on." I admire these people; they are the amazing ones.

The pandemic has changed our way of life, what has been like for you as volunteer?

It’s been hard. The human touch just means so much and it has been challenging in some ways to not physically touch someone to reassure them or make them feel them feel supported. However, I take comfort in knowing that I can still provide assistance by speaking with clients on the phone, offering virtual support and providing referrals online. I am looking forward to the day when I am able to give hugs again- I can’t wait!